Ashantai Ellis long ago gave up her dream of playing big-time football. But thanks to a new and unique program – the Denver Broncos Institute of Sports Management at Colorado State University – she’s optimistic she’ll be able to be part of the game when she enters the work force.
The Broncos Institute is just one of several CSU connections with the Broncos as they prepare to take on the Carolina Panthers. From key players to assistant coaches to team executives to cheerleaders to equipment personnel, a whole bunch of Rams have played a whole bunch of roles in the team’s success this season.
Though not directly tied to the Super Bowl, the newly created Broncos Institute ties CSU to the team in a unique way. No other university has established an interdisciplinary relationship with an NFL franchise.
Ellis, a senior from Austin, Texas, majoring in Health and Exercise Science in the College of Health and Human Sciences, is one of 42 students in the inaugural cohort of Rams earning a minor in sports management in the new program. She said the program convinced her that she wants to be part of the game.
“I grew up playing Pop Warner football – I was an outside linebacker,” she said with a laugh. “My parents didn’t want me to play after age 11, so I became a cheerleader – anything to be close to the game. I wanted to break down barriers for girls – especially girls of color. I want younger girls to look up to me.
“The interactions I’ve had with the Denver Broncos and the CSU football program (she works in the recruiting office) have been amazing and convinced me that I want to become a director of football operations or a director of recruiting for a Division I football program.”
Ellis’ experience is a prime example of why the Denver Broncos Institute was established. CSU students – and only CSU students – get the chance to work with one of the premier sports franchises in the world and expand their knowledge of the world of professional sports.
Recently, Ellis and five of her cohort mates were at Sports Authority Field at Mile High helping team personnel distribute VIP field passes prior to Broncos playoff games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. It was a rare opportunity for the group to see some of the work required to make a playoff game happen.
“It was fun and a great learning opportunity to be down near the field and interact with people with the team and see what they do,” said Brooke Duggan, a junior from Littleton majoring in Journalism and Media Communication in the College of Liberal Arts. “It really opened my eyes to the opportunities I might have after I graduate.”
While CSU is delighted with the progress the program has made since being established last year, the Broncos are equally pleased. Interns from the program have been getting hands-on experience in a number of areas, helping behind the scenes as the Broncos made their push toward Super Bowl 50.
“We were grateful to have the six interns join our staff and assist with both of our home playoff games,” said Darren O’Donnell, a CSU alumnus who has risen to vice president of business operations for the Broncos. “We recently converted to an all-digital ticket and credential process for the post-season, and they assisted us in navigating a portion of this process for our VIP clients. In addition, they played a key role in learning and dealing with the high expectations that our entire organization strives for in customer service.”
Rams are Super
As for the game itself, the Ram influence on the Broncos’ season has been profound.
Marc Lubick, the son of CSU football coaching legend Sonny Lubick, is in his first year as the team’s assistant wide receivers coach. Lubick, now in his 15th year in coaching, was pleasantly surprised when he arrived in Denver to work for coach Gary Kubiak when he saw so many Rams working for the team.
“It’s really unbelievable the number of Rams there are down here,” he said. “It’s really fun for me to see former CSU football players and coaches doing so well for the team.”
Ah, yes, the players. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the former Mountain West defensive player of the year for CSU, has been a big part of the reason Denver has the No. 1 defense in the NFL, recording 5.5 sacks, forcing four fumbles and recovering two fumbles. He has played in every game after spending his rookie season last year on the practice squad.
Offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo, a rookie who was a four-year starter at CSU, was the team’s starting left tackle for the first three games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He’s considered a future star.
And running back Kapri Bibbs, who set numerous records in his only season at CSU, spent most of the season on the practice squad but nonetheless played an integral role for the Broncos in practice.
“Those guys are all doing great,” Lubick said.
Two other coaches – offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and assistant offensive line coach James Cregg – were standout players for the Rams, while director of player development Ray Jackson was a hero on CSU’s first Western Athletic Conference title team in 1994. Dennison, who grew up in Fort Collins and graduated from Rocky Mountain High School, played in three Super Bowls for the Broncos in the 1980s.
And let’s not forget that two of Kubiak’s sons – Klint and Klay – played for the Rams.
For Lubick, though, one of the best perks about getting to the Super Bowl alongside so many other Rams is the opportunity take his family to the game. As a result, his dad – who still commands great respect in the coaching ranks – gets to attend his first Super Bowl.
“Several times this season coaches from other teams have walked up to me before games, introduced themselves and told me how much they respect my dad,” he said. “He’s the man I’ve always looked up to; he helped me become the man I am. It means the world to me that he will be there in the stands at the Super Bowl.”